Friday, March 12, 2010


Pictured- Kitty Genovese

“Dear God, what have we become?”
-Reaction to Kitty Genovese case, recorded in 1964

I have heard more than one Real Life Superhero talk about the story of Kitty Genovese, a woman violently stabbed to death while her neighbors took no action. The incident led to the coining of the terms “Genovese Syndrome” and “bystander effect.” Tomorrow marks the anniversary of her death, and I know the story is on the minds of several RLSH(1).

RLSH point out that it is this sort of apathy toward our neighbors that they are trying to personally combat.

On March 13, 1964 Catherine “Kitty” Genovese had returned to her apartment building after finishing the night as bar manager of Ev’s 11th hour sports bar, at 3:20AM. She noticed a man at the far end of the parking lot. She nervously headed down the street, heading to a police call box.
The man was later identified as Winston Moseley, a rapist who had already murdered two women. Mosley chased Genovese down the street and stabbed her.
“Oh my God, he stabbed me! Please help me!” Genovese screamed. A man opened his window.
“Let that girl alone!” He yelled. Moseley shrugged and walked away. Genovese then tried to make her way back towards the parking lot, around the building toward her apartment door. Moseley appeared around the corner and attacked Genovese again, and Genovese cried out for help. Windows lit up and Moseley got in his car and drove away.
Genovese made it around the corner and collapsed in one of the stairwells in her building. Moseley then returned to attack her for a third time, finding her and stabbing her fatally on the stairwell. He raped her and stole about 49 dollars from her wallet.
In his confession, Moseley told police the motive of his attack was simply to “kill a woman.”
A witness finally called at 3:50AM. Police found that the witness who called was one of 38 witnesses to the incident. None of the other 37 had called the police during that terrifying half hour and didn’t speak to police until questioned in the following days. From a 1964 New York Times report:
“It was not until 2 weeks later that Catherine Genovese, known as Kitty, returned in death to cry the city awake.
Even then it was not her life or her dying that froze the city, but the witnessing of her murder-the choking fact that thirty-eight of her neighbors had seen her stabbed or heard her cries, and that not one of them, during that hideous half-hour, had lifted the telephone in the safety of his own apartment to call the police and try to save her life.”

Among the apathetic answers witnesses gave for not calling police from the safety of their own homes were “I was tired,” “We were afraid” (although when pressed, they couldn’t explain what they were afraid of) and several simply said “I don’t know” and “I didn’t want to get involved.”
The story generated a lot of outrage and disbelief. It was hard to accept the fact that 38 people had sat on their hands while a screaming woman was being stalked and stabbed below their windows.
The story was broke a couple weeks after the event, when a police chief told a New York Times editor about the 38 witnesses over lunch.
“The police were able to piece together what happened –and captured the suspect-because the residents furnished all the information when detectives rang doorbells during the days following the slaying.
‘But why didn’t someone call us that night?’ (Lieutenant Jacobs) asked unbelievably.

Some facts of this story were disputed in later years, alleging that the New York Times sensationalized parts of it. Because of the lay outs of the buildings, no one could see the entirety of the attack, and many couldn’t see it at all. It was a cold night, so through the closed windows, many thought it was a “drunken argument” or a “lover’s quarrel.”

I’m not going to get into debunking parts of the story here. The fact is, several people did see or hear something, and on that night mankind failed Kitty Genovese.


1. Zetaman has pointed out that many RLSH may feel an affinity to this story because it is part of the storyline of Watchmen. In a flashback, Rorschach recalls how he had a job as a youth in a garment factory. Kitty Genovese places a special order for a mod style, ink blot shifting dress. After he learns of her murder, he uses the dress fabric for his mask.

Thirty-Eight Witnesses, by A.M. Rosenthal, 1964
Kitty, 40 Years Later, by Jim Rasenberger, New York Times, February 8, 2004
The Kitty Genovese Murder, by Mark Gado,
Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons


  1. If people were less self-centered and willing to watch out and stand up for one another, people like me wouldn't be needed. While everyone wants to be needed, this is not the way I would prefer to be needed. People...all people...should be willing to stand up and tell those who terrorize our neighborhoods that we will not sit idly by and let these things happen.

  2. This is one of those things that have relevance within the RLSH community simply because of the cultures affinity to Watchmen. This is bizarre in itself because a majority of RLSH are not comic book readers.
    This is a very sad case of apathy, but it happened a long time ago. I can think of numerous of tragic events that the RLSH community can draw inspiration on and possibly should. However I believe this one is so focused on because someone somewhere read Watchmen for the first time. They read how the character Rorschach was inspired by the death of Ms. Genovese and decided they want to turn it into a RLSH holiday of sorts. I have felt that it was bizarre of so many RLSH to want to “patrol” on her death and not be inspired by other injustices in our nation to do a national patrol as well.
    I I could be just wrong and off base though.

  3. Zetaman has it right on the money: Watchmen is probably the only reason that Kitty Genovese's name gets tossed around so much.

    The problem is that it probably didn't happen the way the New York Times initially reported, making RLSH hollering about her death all the more embarrassing.

    There was once an extensive website with maps and crime scene photos and everything... but I'm having trouble finding it, so this On The Media will have to do and a transcript is here:

    Captain Carnage called a fellow hero out on his bullshit( but the majority opinion was that beautiful Italian women need rescuing from cruel heartless bystanders and dastardly black men. Don't kid yourself: this has Missing White Woman Syndrome ( written all over it, and that the killer was swarthy was icing on the cake.

    One has to wonder, however, how people from the sixties would have reacted if it was then widely known that Genovese was a lesbian who shared her Kew Gardens, Queens apartment with her girlfriend Mary Ann Zielonko. If that had been widely reported, society would have dismissed the case as "bad things happen to bad people".

    Kitty Genovese tell us little about how bystanders behave, but very much about how society picks and chooses who to mourn.

  4. Zetaman, thanks for pointing that out. I went in and added that as a footnote to the main write up. I guess I forgot or lost in my subconscious it was part of the Watchmen plot.

    Agent B, I think your analysis is accurate, but I think people don't analyze to that detail because they see the story as more symbolic of apathy. What I mean is I don't think people care about the race or other details, they care about the thirty some neighbors not moving to action.

    I think you are both right in that there are many other stories that equally or better provide terrible examples of society ills.

    Some stories seem to stick and others don't without much logic as to why they capture our (or the media's) imagination.

  5. I can think of one at my level. Meow and I bought flowers to the makeshift memorial outside Ward Weaver's house/crime scene along with half of Portland.

    Wikipedia reports that only a dozen individuals were in earshot of the incident.

    "Later investigation by police and prosecutors revealed that approximately a dozen (but almost certainly not the 38 cited in the Times article) individuals nearby had heard or observed portions of the attack, though none saw or were aware of the entire incident.[9] Only one witness, Joseph Fink, was aware she was stabbed in the first attack, and only Karl Ross was aware of it in the second attack. Many were entirely unaware that an assault or homicide was in progress; some thought that what they saw or heard was a lovers' quarrel or a drunken brawl or a group of friends leaving the bar when Moseley first approached Genovese."


    "The lead is dramatic but factually inaccurate. None of the witnesses observed the attacks in their entirety. Because of the layout of the complex and the fact that the attacks took place in different locations, no witness saw the entire sequence of events. Most only heard portions of the incident without realizing its seriousness, a few saw only small portions of the initial assault, and no witnesses directly saw the final attack and rape in an exterior hallway which resulted in Genovese's death.[1] Additionally, after the initial attack punctured her lungs (leading to her eventual death from asphyxiation), it is unlikely that she was able to scream at any volume.[14]"

    I guess if people want to commemerating this day then I guess they should as it's their rights. But this is sort of like believing in Santa Claus. Yeah, St. Nicholas was real, but the modern day stories are exaggerated.

  6. I didn't read Watchmen and had no clue about Rorschach's connection to this. All I knew was her name and her connection to the "bystander effect". I don't feel an affinity because this incident inspired something in a damned comic book. It speaks to me because it is a well-known example (even if exaggerated) of something fundamentally wrong with people not caring to get involved.

    Tonight, Golden Valkyrie and I are going out to honor the memory, not just of Kitty Genovese, but of all those who have suffered because of the apathy of society. We are going out to make a statement, "Here, and no further. This will not happen again on our watch."

    Silver Sentinel

  7. The case of Kitty is not the only one demonstrating the sad results of the psychological effect that has become known as the bystander effect. Here is another one:


    Petru Barladeanu was accidentally shot by Italian mafia in a crowded street in the center of Napoli close to the Spanish Quarter, on the 26th of May, 2009. The event took place at a moment when the street was full of people who witnessed the assault at early hours of the evening. Taking refuge at the entrance of a station, Petru Barladeanu fell and died half an hour later in the presence of his panicked wife who called for help. As shown in the CCTV video of the event the victim was surrounded by ordinary people who looked at the victim without giving any help whatsoever and then fled the scene. The victim eventually died and the perpetrators were convicted only months later. None of those who refused to assist the victim were either identified or charged by the prosecutors.


    I've read alot of criticism from anti-RLSH about their disdain of RLSH patrols and how ineffective or silly they are. But then I think about incidents like this and then I have to ask myself if these people could have been saved if just one of the people seeing the crime happen or seeing the victim's serious injuries would have stepped up and done something. Would Kitty have been saved if someone seeing this have brought her into the safety of their home and called the paramedics? Would Petru have been saved if someone would have called for medical assistance or provided a modicum of on the spot help?

    RLSH patrols are not trying to replace the police. To think so would be ridiculous. But situations like those mentioned above point out that you can have people around capable of helping, capable of making a difference and potentially saving lives but if they are consumed by apathy then it won't matter whether it's 5 bystanders of 5000. Chances are things will end up tragic.

    The RLSH care. It's why they do what they do despite the false accusations that they do it for the glory or their egos. And yes Silver Sentinel, you are right. It's time to start turning things around. Take care folks and stay safe.

  8. More eyes on the street means less quiet places for bad things to happen. Simple math, you don't have to be Charles Bronson from Death Wish to do this, just being Jimmy Stewart from Rear Window would help.